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Kennedy and the Law

Brass Tacks

By Kathie Amatniek

In the spring of the year, the Massachusetts legislature passed what was then widely heralded as a model law to control the finances of political campaigns. Drawn up by a special commission appointed by President Kennedy himself (John F. '41), complete with a respectable quota of Harvard professors, the law was designed to curb the exorbitant, unreported spending that had characterized so many of the campaigns in the state. Although the law placed no ceiling on total campaign expenditures, it required that every two weeks throughout the campaign the committees of all candidates for state-wide office file in the Secretary of State's office itemized reports of all expenditures and liabilities over $50 that were incurred during the two week inter-vale. Among the first candidates this law would affect were the Senatorial contenders Ted Kennedy and George Lodge. Presumably, the prospect of campaign finances being open for public inspection would inhibit the candidates and their committees from amassing distastefully large expenditures. The public would be likely to react against one canddate who was spending two or three times as much as another.

In addition to the expenditure reports, the law required that the candidates' committees identify the names and addresses of all people making campaign contributions of more than $25. No single contributor could give more than $3000 to any one campaign. This provision was designed to broaden the base of political support.

If the law were to be effective, then, it had to be widely publicized. Throughout the campaign, Secretary of State Kevin White sent photostated copies to the Boston newspapers, and other copies were made available in the Elections office to anyone who was interested. Yet little attention was paid to these reports.

From time to time during the summer the Boston papers ran columns disclosing the names of well known contributors to the major campaigns. But the papers gave virtually no coverage to records of expenditures.

Rurmors, however, of very high expenditures and inaccurate reporting, especially in the senatorial campaigns of Edward "Ted" M. Kennedy '54 and Republican Laurence Curtis, had been circulating since early in the campaign. To anyone who bothered to count bill-boards or television time, it seemed curious that Kennedy's total expenditures of $100,292 at the time of the primary amounted to less than half of Endicott "Chub" Peabody's '48 ($238,583), Democratic candidate for Governor, and only $20,000 more than Edward McCormack's ($80,312).

Two weeks before the election, the New York Herald Tribune ran a front page news feature questioning such discrepancies. The article also mentioned a million dollar figure which it implied might be a realistic estimate of Kennedy's expenses. Most of the Tribune article was based on estimates only, but it provided some very good leads. Yet none of the Boston papers picked the story up, even though the Globe is part of the Herald Tribune wire service.

While actual violations in the law would ultimately have to be judged in the courts, CRIMSON examination of the records in the Secretary of State's office quickly suggested obvious questions about some of the reports. The Records of Ted Kennedy's Committee, for instance, contained no references to any expenditures for television or radio, except during the reporting period from Nov. 16 to 31. In this case a film studio received $14,000. Reports of the two other candidates for U.S. Senate, George Lodge and H. Stuart Hughes, specifically listed expenditures for television and radio amounting to many thousands of dollars.

The campaign disclosure law requires that all reported expenditures and liabilities be broken down into nine categories, one of which is specifically for "radio and television." This category is a particularly important one. Not only are radio and television major items of expense in most campaigns, but they are the only items that can be conclusively checked without the power of subpoena. According to FCC regulations all radio and television stations must make available to the public, upon request, their own records of time purchased by political candidates. This prevents what is known as "picking up the tab," a practice by which anonymous groups or individuals pay for political expenses (like newspaper or billboards) without ever reporting it to the candidate's committee.

Records, then, of just three radio and TV stations in the Boston area alone indicated that the Kennedy Committee, from the beginning of the campaign through September, spent at least twice as much as the reports filed in the State House by the Kennedy Committee cover. The stations' figures came to a little more than $31,000.

Although the Kennedy Committee does not list specifically any expenses for radio and TV during this period, there are some items in the records which might include radio and TV. These were two checks to Dowd Advertising company for "other" expenses (category #9) totaling $13,200. But this figure could well include additional kinds of advertising expenses.

Extrapolating from these discrepancies, Kennedy's real total expenditures might differ from his reported ones ($341,367) by a factor of two or three.

A similar check of the Lodge and Hughes radio-TV figures indicated that their actual expenditures as evidenced by the station's records were well within the official reports in the Secretary of State's office.

Towards the very end of the campaign, the Kennedy Committee attributed larger, and again unspecified, sums to John C. Dowd Co. The first time this occurred, during the reporting period Oct. 15-31, the Committee reported incurring a liability of $70,000 to Dowd for the whole month of October. But this report was not submitted to the Secretary of State's office by the banks until Nov. 6, one day after the deadline. It was, therefore, not available for public inspection until after the election.

For the reporting period Nov. 1-16, the Kennedy Committee once more reported a liability to Dowd. This time the sum was $150,000; but again it was for expenses incurred during the month of October, not the November period it was supposedly covering.

Neither the reports of Lodge nor Hughes disclose any liabilities whatsoever.

If these discrepancies in the Kennedy reports hold up in court, there is little question that the disclosure law has failed. Amassing large amounts of credit which is not reported until after election day destroys the possibility of the information influencing the election decision. And when expenditures are not specified, it is almost impossible to check the accuracy of reported figures.

Massachusetts Secretary of State Kevin White, when asked to explain the discrepancies in the Kennedy reports, noted that an examination of the reports of all the candidates might well indicate violations of the law. While White did not feel in a position to comment on specific candidates or campaigns he did clarify that the law requires that expenses for radio and television be specifically stated, not lumped under a general category like "other" and attributed to an ad agency. According to the law, he reiterated, liabilities must be reported every two weeks for the debts incurred during that time interval.

"The one problem with the law," he said, "is that no one seems to have either the power or the interest to enforce it.... There are no major loopholes in the law itself."

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